My Review of Left Behind, the new movie
I have an apology to make. A few days ago, in other place, I said some negative things about a rapture-based horror film called “The Remaining.” I chided it for both sub-standard film-making and corrupt theology. I agree with everything I said, but I should have noted that, even with its faults, it is the best rapture-movie of the year. The new “Left Behind” movie, opening this weekend and starring Nicholas Cage, makes “The Remaining” look like "The Godfather." Or, at least, "The Exorcist."
You might be asking yourself “there's a new Left Behind movie? Haven’t I already seen this” (or avoided this)? The answer is yes, yes you have. The 2000s brought us three such films, starring Kirk Cameron. Previous to those movies, Left Behind was a series of hackneyed novels by a once-interesting pastoral writer named Tim LaHaye. But now, a company called Left Behind Investments, LLC, has sunk a reported 15 million dollars into the most unnecessary film since Gus Van Zant's 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.
Some people are surprised that Nicholas Cage, who, unlike the obviously devout Kirk Cameron, almost never speaks about his religion (assuming he has one), would do a bad “Christian” film. To those objections, I would ask “have you seen any Nicholas Cage movies in the past decade?” Just take a look at his IMDB page. Left Behind may not be the worst film on there. Well, maybe it is. In any event, Nicholas Cage, and all the other actors, and the directing, and the script, and the design, are universally dreadful. Of all the dreadfulness, the score is the worst part.
I sat down to watch Left Behind, truly hoping for some good entertainment. I thought it might be well made, or at least cheap-but-dirty. Barring that, I was hoping for unintentional humor. Unfortunately, it is just plain bad. It is hard to believe one can make the end of the world so, so boring.
This is a movie in which nothing happens for the first 40 minutes. Nothing. People have lines like “so, how is school?” Then, when the rapture happens, most of the rest of the movie is people trying to figure out “WHAT HAPPENED?’ Like it’s some great mystery. It's a movie about the rapture, we all know that going in. Until the last 15 minutes or so, in which it becomes a horribly cheap airplane-disaster movie. Do you remember the movie "Airplane"? Made in 1980, that film has far more believable airplane-related sets and action than does this movie.
I could really go on and on about how bad this movie is. Worst film of the year! But the real problem is, of course, theological. There is a moment in that other film, "The Remaining." in which a young woman opens a Bible, saying she’s looking for the Rapture. Then she exclaims “it’s not here!” She’s right.
Many people have said very strange things about what we should expect around the time of Christ’s return. However, the Rapture, at least as understood in these movies, is exceedingly odd, and entirely unbiblical. In this odd, and historically very late, theory of the End, Christ must return more than once, and the first of these returns is secret. No one sees him. At this return, he sucks up all Christians into heaven. Then, those who remain are in for a whole (demonic) host of really, really bad days. This allows Christians to be freed from all suffering, and all judgment. Something that the Bible categorically denies will happen.
In the Bible, Christ returns. Every eye sees him. He is not hidden in any way. Upon his return, some of us will meet him "in the air" . We will meet him as villagers would run out to meet their traveling king. We go out, greet him, and then bring him into our village. Since Christ is coming back as he Ascended, this may well look like people meeting him in flight, but then quickly ushering him back to our, and his, permanent home, the remade earth.
You see, Christians do not believe that we permanently reside in some place far above us. As N.T. Wright has said, “heaven is a big deal, but it’s not the end of the world.” When Christ returns, we will all be resurrected. The heavenly realm will be revealed, all creation will be made new, and we will live here, in the New Jerusalem. It will be a place that is perfect, a city that is visibly inhabited by God. We will eat and drink, work and rest, love and be loved, in an eternal, material, spiritual world with no sin.
This is the hope of scripture. Not that we will be pulled out while our fellow humans are brutally tortured, and then we live on some cloud. No, not at all. We will suffer in the End Times, as the Book of Revelation makes clear. But we will also be raised up, in perfect physical bodies, to enjoy eternity with our savior. This is the message of the Gospel. Not that we go up there, but that Christ comes down here.
It is my belief that in Paradise, we will still make art, perhaps even cinema. I think that the films we make will be better than Left Behind (or, perhaps, any other movie ever made). I also believe that the hope we have in Christ is far greater than false hope that Left Behind offers.